7Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” (Exodus 2:7, NIV)
Every superhero and super-shero has an origin story. An origin story often includes a flashback that tells us how that person acquired his or her powers as well as purpose in fighting crime. When I think of Moses, I have visions of that old Charlton Heston movie “The Ten Commandments” where Moses faces the burning bush or is standing before the parting of the Red Sea. However, I am captivated by the critical role of his older sister Miriam. Miriam’s curiosity and creativity may have seemed small, but they were of biblical proportions.
This week’s letter was about the Hebrew midwives who set into motion a plan of restoration to save baby boys from the king’s order to execute them. In this chapter, Moses’ mother lets him live but then places him in a basket in the waters. His protective sister runs near the Nile river, curious to see what will happen to her baby brother. Did her mother know where she went? Was she part of this plan? When Pharaoh’s daughter sends her maid to bring the basket out of the waters, Miriam quickly had an innovative and strategic plan. I have not seen a more convincing and leading question in Exodus yet than the one from this young girl! Shall I go get another woman to nurse him for you?
In Micah 6:4, God recalls to the prophet that: “For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”
Miriam is remembered with the same stature as Moses and Aaron: an equal agent of freedom, innovation and liberation. Most importantly, I am moved by her sent-ness. Her smallness may be often over-looked, but it is not without equal and powerful sent-ness. The text doesn’t tell us if her mother sent her to watch by the river, but God assures us that God sent her. Every step was sent. Miriam was the mastermind of this water deliverance of her baby brother. She was bold in offering a solution and pitching the idea even as she stood with a power differential before Pharaoh’s daughter. She had no idea that in aiding Moses to be delivered from the waters, she was ushering the deliverance of a whole people from the waters of slavery and through the literal waters of the Red Sea.
Embrace your sent-ness even in your small acts of kindness. Maybe Miriam’s superpowers were her curiosity and creativity, catalytic in the hands of a God co-creating freedom and restoration. Miriam’s story was critical in God’s larger story of redemption. Your story is no less miraculous.
As you reflect on the actions of a young Miriam, ask yourself these questions: First, how are curiosity and creativity a part of your problem-solving? Secondly, how might you fill in the rest of the Miriam’s question: Shall I [offer a different idea…]?
Father, give us curiosity and creativity where often what worked before no longer works this new season of life.
24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 26Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26, NIV)
As we look to the blessings and woes in Luke 6, we are challenged with the question, “What do you really want in life?” In particular, the woes enumerated by Jesus urge us to reflect on what may be our core yearnings, since these are often endorsed by our culture and encouraged by our own human nature.
The woes mentioned by Jesus in Luke 6:24-26 reflect some of the things most commonly desired in life: wealth, pleasure, happiness, and fame. For example, the Higher Education Research Group does an annual survey of college freshmen in the U.S. In the 2019 survey, participants were asked: “Please indicate the importance to you of each of the following.” The results were telling. What received the highest positive response? “Being very well off financially” (84.3%). When today’s Baby Boomers were taking this survey decades ago, they scored only 44.6% here. By way of contrast, 73% of Boomers once rated “Developing a meaningful philosophy of life” highly, whereas only 49% of today’s freshmen would agree. Also telling is the fact that only 43% of freshmen in 2019 placed high value on “Integrating spirituality into my life.”
I am not criticizing the younger generations. I’m rather sure that today’s freshmen, designated as Generation Z, are not terribly different from their parents in core values. Perhaps the younger folk are simply more honest than their idealistic parents were in college. I think most of us would agree that our culture and our own hearts encourage us to desire wealth, pleasure, happiness, and fame.
Please do not miss the point, Scripture does not demand that we reject the good things of this world. In certain contexts, wealth, pleasure, happiness, and fame are worthy of delight (for example, Genesis 2:9; Nehemiah 8:10; Proverbs 22:1-4, 24:13; John 2:1-11). Such things can even be blessings from God. But when we desire them above all, when we live in order to maximize our money, pleasure, happiness, and fame, then we are missing the best way of God’s kingdom. The things for which we strive offer temporary delight, according to Jesus. Moreover, they can easily pull us away from primary devotion to God and God’s righteousness. They can allow us to trust in earthly goodness rather than God’s grace.
In reflecting on Luke 6:24-26, it is helpful to consider each of the values Jesus associates with woe. What are my deepest desires in life? To what extent am I living for wealth, pleasure, happiness, or fame? What might take higher place than God and God’s kingdom when it comes to my true yearnings?
As you reflect on the questions above, have an honest conversation with God about what you’re thinking. Ask for insight from the Holy Spirit and be open to what God might want to show you about yourself.
What are your deepest desires in life?
What might take higher place than God and God’s kingdom when it comes to your true yearnings?
16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18, NIV)
One of the most overused phrases during the current pandemic is “uncertain times.” Though we certainly live in uncertain times, millions of people in our world are experiencing much worse than uncertainty. According to Colossians 3:12, our calling as Christians is to feel compassion for others and to act on it. Feeling our own uncertainty isn’t wrong, of course, but it surely isn’t enough. Perhaps our uncertainty can even help us to be more compassionate with others who live with uncertain realities and feelings all the time.
A passage from the first letter of John calls us to active compassion in way similar to what we observed in Colossians 3:12. Unfortunately, our translation of 1 John 3:17 makes this hard to see. A more accurate translation would be, “How does God’s love abide in someone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and closes their heart against them?” The Greek word I’m translating as “heart” is splanchna literally means “inward parts” in Greek. This is the same word that appear in Colossians: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion [splanchna oiktirmou, a heart of compassion], kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
So, John underscores in a new but related way what we learn from Colossians 3:12. As Christ followers, we need to have hearts open to others. We should be people of genuine compassion. If God’s love truly dwells in us, then we will be drawn to love others. This love will be ignited by our open hearts. But, as John makes abundantly clear, our feelings of love must also be expressed in tangible action. Immediately after implying that our hearts should be open, not closed, John adds, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (v. 18).
Enacted compassion means, in some cases, that we listen empathically to those who are feeling anxious uncertainty. But it also invites us to care for people in other ways as we attend sensitively to their circumstances and feelings.
What might this look like? I’d like to share three examples I read about of people who are expressing compassion to others during the time of the coronavirus pandemic. The first person regularly remembers those she knows who live alone. She prepares meals as a gesture of concern, being sure to sanitize everything she delivers, and then spends time talking with those she is serving from a very safe distance as she drops off their food.
The second is a woman who owns a thriving business, but one that is struggling mightily in these difficult days. Nevertheless, she is doing all she can to keep her staff employed for as long as possible, even if this means personally receiving no salary and, in fact, losing quite a bit of money.
Finally, there is a woman who, a few weeks ago, was concerned over the inaccessibility of face masks. They are required, yet were very hard to find. So this woman started sewing face masks, dozens and dozens of them, and giving them away. We wouldn’t mind if she had chosen to sell them for a fair price. But she decided instead to freely serve people through her talent and generosity.
In the foreseeable future, we will all struggle with the implications of the coronavirus. In truth, we can’t be certain about the challenges coming our way. But one thing we can be certain of: As God’s beloved people, we are to love others, both by opening our hearts to them and by acting in love as our hearts move us.
Let us ask the Lord to help us have open hearts to people in need. Not just for today, but for the many days, months, and years ahead. As we respond to the impact of the coronavirus, may we be attentive to the feelings and needs of those around us. Individually, and together as God’s people, let us show tangible love as an expression of what is in our hearts. Not just in word or speech, but in truth and action.
What helps your heart to be open to people in need?
What helps you to actively care for those in need?
1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3, NIV)
According to the Bible, we live in enemy territory, so to speak. We are caught in a world that opposes God, not just in human hearts, but in systems and institutions. Scripture helps us to see the world as it is – not so that we might abandon it, but so that we might participate in God’s work of redeeming the world and its people.
Bill Swedberg fought for the Allies in World War II. He was a member of an Army reconnaissance team in Europe that would go behind the German lines in order to report on their activities and plans. He spent a good deal of time literally behind enemy lines, not exactly a place we’d want to find ourselves.
If we stop to think about it, we live right now behind enemy lines. It’s not uncommon for Christians to think of reality as having three layers. The top layer is Heaven, the place of God and goodness. The bottom layer is Hell, the place of Satan and evil. In the middle is the world. It is neither good nor evil, but rather a kind of demilitarized zone between good and evil, a neutral battleground in which the cosmic war between good and evil is fought.
This notion of the neutral world, however, is not taught in Scripture. In Ephesians 2:1-2, for example, it says: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world . . . .” The Message paraphrases this well: “You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live.”
When Paul speaks of “this world,” he is not thinking about the physical earth: rocks, trees, water, and so forth. Instead, he is thinking about what we might call culture, worldview, or the spirit of the age. He is envisioning the world as a system of powers that pulls us in the direction of sin and death. When we were dead in our trespasses and sins, we were living according to the ways of the world, a world that entraps us and entices us to live contrary to God. We were living behind enemy lines.
It’s crucial for us to see the world from a biblical point of view. Though God’s ways can be found in it because God is present, the dominant system of the world opposes God’s values and practices. We all live in cultures, communities, and contexts that lure us into the ways of sin and death. Because we are so familiar with these ways, they don’t feel wrong or dangerous. They simply feel normal. Thus, we need to develop a divine perspective on the world so that we might see it for what it is, acknowledging the ways in which it opposes God.
Yet, this does not mean we should withdraw from the world because God is in the business of restoring it in Christ (see Eph. 1:9-10). Quite the opposite! You and I are called to participate in God’s work of restoration. We do this through how we live in the world. But, because we live in this world, we need to discern what in the world is of God and what in the world opposes God, so that we might experience and share the life of God rather than the death associated with the ways of this world. We need new vision, new values, and a new vocation. Ephesians is helping us have all three.
As you reflect on this passage, think about our world, does “living behind enemy lines” make sense to you? Where in the world do you see evidence of systemic sin and death? Where do you see evidence of God’s presence?
What helps you to be “in the world but not of it”?